Honorary Chairman of the Social Weeks of France

Former General Director of the International Monetary Fund


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Academic conference: “The Ukrainian cooperative movement”

“The Expierence of Western Europe with Christian Social Policy”

June, 12


The Struggle for Justice in Western Europe:

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Dear friends,

I cannot help expressing my joy at my being in Ukraine now. Moreover, this feeling is even greater because I am here not with a mission to organize modest international support for the first steps which are being made by your democracy, but to take part, on behalf of the Social Weeks in France, in your first Ecumenical Social Week!

Yet the topic of the speech I consented to address you with is too wide-ranging to be explored within some 20 minutes. Therefore, let me please narrow it to the following:

- to devote but a few words to the past, that is, to the period prior to the encyclical Rerum Novarum, which was promulgated in 1891 by Pope Leo ХІІI and which opened the eyes of most Catholics to social realities which they had not been able to comprehend fully before that time;

- to dwell mainly on my own country, and only partially on the rest of Europe.

May I please highlight my understanding of the word “struggle”: first of all, this is the participation of Christians in the fight for justice, sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder alongside with other political and social forces bearing not the slightest relation to Christianity, rather sometimes having even a hostile attitude towards it. This is also an ongoing fight which we must carry on against ourselves and our passivity, against our resistance to changes, our numbness to the “signs of the times”...



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This is the principal ethical element of the holy Scriptures, and for years and years it has generated different prophetic points of view in Europe and farther. The slowness of Churches and Christians who, although performing acts of charity, were too inert in their apprehension of the social consequences of the industrial revolution which became the drama of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries in Europe. They did not notice in good time, or they left without any answers, the gross problems of the exploitation of workers and the miserable conditions under which industrial capitalism placed the working class for many decades.

We must admit that throughout these decades the Church and Christians did not analyze carefully the changes that had been taking place and did not engage actively enough in the struggle for justice. In France, the Church with a heavy heart started to support democracy and lost the working class in that passivity[3]. It was necessary to wait for Rerum Novarum, which itself had been inspired by the far-sighted views and acts of such people as, for example, Msgr. Ketteler in Germany, so that Christians could understand to what justice and solidarity obligated them in the situation in which they had found themselves.

The delay in Christian reaction would produce extremely serious consequences. They would even speak of the “apostasy of the working class,” which would mean that it was Christian, though, and that is very open to doubt. Quite possibly it was baptized, but it was hardly Christian in practice. The scope of drama would show up gradually. In the 1940s-1950s, the French Church would be shaken by the appearance of the book France: A Mission Country?, which would offer the first sociological approach to the phenomenon. This would develop into a deep crisis of consciousness, total cultural shock that would affect the coming generations of Christians. This shock would become the reason for a true outburst and mass involvement in the struggle for justice and against the established order. Some Christians would even join the ranks of the Communist Party, the real nature of which they did not conceive and which seemed the workers’ advance-guard to them. Unfortunately, there was also confusion in the choice between the “bright future” promised by the Party and the coming of the Divine Kingdom.

However, the epistle of Leo ХІІI yielded an immediate and profound effect. Jean-Marie Brunot told you about the creation of the Social Weeks in France. There were other displays of the encyclical’s impact, as well. We can see them in the foundation of Christian trade unions, which became more and more decisive in the development of the movement for mutual insurance, especially popular in such regions with old Christian traditions as the West, or Elzas and Lotharingia, where it would add in the activities of German social organizations. The Catholic press concerned about social development boosted its value and scale, too. In the end, the influence of thinkers and the intelligentsia became more tangible, as that of Maritain or Emannuel Munier. In such a context, the Christian-democratic political trend emerged in various forms in most countries of Western Europe and took root there after the fight against the Nazis in the post-war governments. It would take part in the making and introduction of the “social market economy.”

The latter appeared on the ruins remaining after the crisis of 1929 and the Second World War and was accompanied by the adoption of very important social reforms in the majority of our countries. Those reforms corresponded to the search for a society more just and with more solidarity, set due to a decisive economy’s expansion in the period named the “Triumphal 30 years” between 1945 and the middle of the ‘70s.

Thus was installed the so-called regime of the “state-promoter,” which was best reflected in the Scandinavian countries, and which was also successful in the countries of Europe that had a common market at that time: the European Six. This Europe held an obvious imprint of the social Christian idea with its objection to nationalism, which had resulted in previous misunderstandings, and with its search for the ways of a world order based on principles of international cooperation and care for the development of the poorest countries. This impact was very noticeable in the way in which social market democracy strived to implement the values of solidarity and justice. In France, in particular, due to the efforts of the Social Weeks, reforms of Christian orientation were carried out at the very beginning of the twentieth century, indeed.

Starting in 1904, the Weeks advocated the following reforms: unemployment insurance, indemnity against world diseases, just pay for living, tax correlative with profits, reduction of working hours, minimum salaries for beginning employees… And, further on, the first family payments, first social security provisions, the predecessors of Social Security, co-operative productions, numerous housing initiatives… This list has not been made up by me; it is contained in the speech of an important personality – the Socialist Madam Martina Aubrey, a former minister of social policy and the present mayor of Lille - on the occasion of the centenary celebration of the Social Weeks in France in 2004.

In addition, it would not be an overstatement to say that all these reforms behind the Social Weeks indicate the role of Christians who have been paying special attention to justice in contemporary society, and who have been co-operating with the representatives of the world of workers and the social sphere on the principles of sincerity and active involvement in the common cause.

Let me emphasize that for European Christians these years of social strife and achievements were also the time to deepen and develop the social involvement to which the Second Vatican Council had called Catholics. As was rightly pointed out by Msgr. Defois, president of Justice and Peace in Europe[4], at the Second Vatican Council the Church passed on to the “laymen the creation of secular power, stressing the fact that it was their very task ...” The Church accented the help which it “had received… from non-Christian society in its activities and teaching. In addition to participation in special Catholic institutions of social and political orientation, it was necessary to partake in everything that corresponded to the Gospel and to Church goals in society. Christians were no longer trying to find the third way between liberalism and Marxism; they entered the period of discussion in the name of care for man, taking into account the modern context of our market economy.”

Soon in his well-known letter to Cardinal Rois (in 1971) Paul VІ acknowledged that it was hard for the Church to “pronounce one idea” in the cases alike. Further on, these would be Christians in the world variety of their situations who “had to objectively analyze the situation in each of their countries and to examine it in the light of the Gospel…” And to act. Helpful words in a time when new events would require new measures and struggle for justice in the second half of the twentieth century:

- due to the awareness of the scope of problems of development all over the world, Paul VI would be able to say in the encyclical Populorum Progressio, “the social

issue has become a world issue”;

- the crisis of the state-promoter in industrial countries;


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Indeed, beginning in the ‘70s the state-promoter suffered a crisis, and the struggle for justice obtained new forms in European countries that were joining the Common Market in great numbers and hence had to settle common issues together.

The crisis of the state-promoter began when the balance established after World War II between the growth of riches and permanent improvement of the mechanisms of social security was upset by the increase of unemployment. A long crisis period ensued during which it was necessary to strive for a decrease of the unemployment rate and more effective application of levers of social security, which had been carried on with variable success. At the same time it brought about the need to resist new forms of poverty, which danger peeped up in the so-called crisis of the suburbs in France in autumn 2005.

From then on it was social connection that acquired importance. Many observers told us that it was breaking apart. Did we know that it did not exist in some places at all? We were told that “our treatment of young people was the real symbol of confusion in our activities … that young people were the victims of the imperfect adaptation of our model of society,” but we were little aware of the hopelessness of the young people who, in the majority, came from immigrant families that had arrived in France in the years of prosperity. They do not quite realize that they constitute part of the country where they need to be respected, provided with the chance to live, to be heard, to have a normal future; all of which is sometimes denied only because of the name they bear, or the quarter they dwell in. How then should we deal with young people doomed to a certain curtailment in social structure and to reckless wild resistance, to cutting down that, unfortunately, answers our protracted unwillingness to understand, and our collective autism?

Therefore, we have to attempt shaping or renewing a society where there would be room for hope, and where young people would see the future. The question is how to promote the creation of “conditions for the birth of civil liberties” in society[5]. With this purpose in mind we realize that work on individual support, which is called accompaniment, and work on establishing social connection must be conducted simultaneously. The question is also about the new rooting of solidarity at the local level, i.e. where there are problems, without saving on training guardians and volunteers.

In the end, as the question is about the possible future, we must open our eyes to the modern crisis of our democracy and to the shortage – I would even say, to the futility – of political discussions, to their inability to face the changes precipitated by globalization. Therefore, we should rehabilitate political engagement and facilitate the formation of a new generation of men and women who would not see a means of success in a political career but an opportunity to establish a just and fraternal society with solidarity

In the context you see, the struggle for justice acquires a new dimension. The latter might be illustrated by the results of research carried out in France by the Social Weeks on the eve of the last presidential election and aimed at presenting “twelve suggestions for a more just France” to the presidential candidates. These results testify to the fight many Christians are involved in. Sometimes this fight is yesterday's, sometimes it answers the current situation, or prophesies the situation tomorrow.

Amid yesterday's fights which have not been resolved, and which require ensuing battles launched yet in the last century, I will select three suggestions:

  1. To set the real status of the employee. – In the context of present-day instability, when every employee runs the risk of being forced to change profession a few times within his lifetime, the question is about the concordance of the employee’s mobility with his/her safety, in particular, about facilities to learn every profession.
  2. To reform the status of enterprises to provide priority to the prosecution of capital and, in particular, to set rules in order to avoid surplus payment to leaders.
  3. To fix as the primary task an increase in the share of the most needy in income distribution.

Other ways of struggle have been marked by the crisis of the state-promoter and correspond to recent problems. The question is about:

1. To offer a proper welcome to immigrants. This is an extremely relevant issue that needs to have common European solutions found, not being afraid of getting limited to the common denominator determined by the least open countries, or populist governments. Within this problem Christians accentuate the right of every person to live in a family, in particular. No measures are legal if they deny the realization of this right abroad under the guise of regulation of family unification. By the way, I am not sure whether Christians fighting in all aspects for the preservation of family life in our society would protect it with an equal rigor among immigrants.

2. To prepare the future for the coming generation, trying not to pass on the load of today’s problems as a debt to it. The question is about the revision of the financial policy that has been in effect during the last 30 years and that, while financing the so-called politicians of social advancement, has unfairly passed on to the coming generations the obligation we should either avoid or share among ourselves in a just way.

3. To promote the building of Europe with social solidarity. – In the long-term perspective this struggle is the main one. The question is about renewal of the balance in Europe – disturbed by the crisis – between the requirements of competitiveness and growth and social solidarity, and justice, taking into account cultural specialties and diversities in productivity among the member-states. In particular, the question is about laying down a common foundation of minimal rules to facilitate a better functioning of the European labor-market, to guarantee access to basic services to all, and to accelerate the advancement of the poorest regions.

The third group of suggestions refers to the relations of 27 countries of the European Union with the poorest countries of the world, and with Africa, in particular.

Above all, the question is about a suggestion that I regret to formulate: “to adhere to our financial obligations in relation to poor countries.” Unfortunately, in this sphere as well as in others, the number of broken promises has increased, wherein their fulfillment has been a sacred duty of solidarity.

In all the aforementioned aspects Christian activities are multifaceted, whether we speak of political and trade-union involvement or numerous social organizations.

Let us also pay attention that they are mainly accompanied by the struggle for protection of the environment as it is right that, in the policy of long-term development advertised so widely everywhere, the search for healthy growth, social solidarity and environmental protection should support each other.

The quantity of the fields for activities helps us to understand the work which is yet to be done in order to obtain a just society. Different strategies are applied in different countries to get nearer to such a society. Yet, while engaged in our projects, we might need to once again raise our eyes to a new and menacing crisis, the signs of which are already before us.

Indeed, for the first time in the recent history of the world economy four heavy shoves threaten to unite their force and cause a real shock in world tectonics. They are familiar to you:

- a financial crisis resulting from the deplorable case of “subprimes” in the USA;

- an energy crisis and the rise of oil products’ prices provoked by it;

- a food and agricultural crisis, which added to a billion people living under inhuman conditions in the developing countries another hundred million persons who by the growth of prices on food stuffs are literally barred from subsistence and cast aside into absolute poverty at the moment when they just began getting out of it;

- a crisis related to global warming, the real size of which we have come to understand in recent months. Scientists, Nobel Prize–laureates, clarify that if no emergency measures of protective adaptation are taken, the greater part of which must be undertaken by the states of the North, there will appear a new category of emigrants who will have numbered 75-200 million people by the year 2020 in Africa: “climate emigrants” who will abandon their countries because of the decline in profits from agriculture caused by the climate warming.

Where will this bring us to? The most experienced economists are modestly quiet. We can infer from their uneasiness that a similar coincidence of crises will deteriorate considerably the conditions of high and almost permanent growth under which the world has existed since the beginning of the new century. Does it mean a new fight for justice for us? No doubt, as a common feature of these four crises is that they aggravate injustice in the world.

What will we need to do? It is premature to talk about this so far, but there obviously will be three primary moments:

  1. in the consumers’ universe we are in, to seek new ways of life in which we will have to be restrained in order to share more;
  2. to further international cooperation to struggle together for greater justice in all countries. Collaboration in which people must grant and share. Western Europe, which recovered due to the Marshall Plan 60 years ago, would have to become a true pioneer of the new “granting economy”;
  3. to advance world guidance correlative with giant challenges emerging and requiring the design of strategies, adjustment and financial means at the level where they arise, that is, at the world level. I had to define and experience the complexity of the latter task. The urgency of present problems requires immediate decision-making.


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Dear friends,

We may say that history has not left us – and you, in particular – the least rest! However, I notice that, under the difficult circumstances in your country and in the world, you move ahead. We know well that treasures of public courage, generosity and unselfishness contribute today to your country’s recovery. And you go further along. You make room for a Christian dialogue with history, with society and, as is testified by your sincere invitations to your friends from the rest of Europe, with Europe and with the world. Let me please tell you how many other Christians of Europe from the movement we call Christian Initiatives for Europe will be grateful to you for the fact that you did not allow the slow rate of diplomatic negotiations to impose on you, but entered spontaneously a brotherly dialogue with us on concrete problems, so that together we can find ways of common good for the future world. I hope this work will be beneficial both for us and for you.

Yes, dear friends, the commencement of the first Ecumenical Social Week is a breath of hope. The breath to “Hope that does not disappoint.” Let us together be thankful for this.


[3] Only with a few exceptions: Msgr. Defois is fond of quoting, for instance, Archbishop Cambre who, several years before Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, denounced the contemporary situation in his pastoral letter: ”exploitation of man by man, who speculates on those similar to oneself as with an animal, as with a tool for manufacturing.” Many other examples can be provided.

[4] Address on the occasion of the centenary anniversary of the Social Weeks in France Europe a Society that Needs to Be Devised. 2005.

[5] The expression belongs to Miriam Revau d’Allonn.